The Sadness of Winning

I’m 24 years old. I’ve been a hardcore Philadelphia sports fan for over 15 years, and I’ve been draped in Eagles gear since before I could walk. In that time, I’ve seen good teams come and go. The Eagles have knocked on the door of a championship at least five or six times. The Sixers, led by the greatness of Allen Iverson, had their chance in the finals. The Flyers seem to be in the playoffs every year, but only reached the Stanley Cup finals twice in my life time. Which brings me to the team everyone in Philadelphia is so quick to forget, the Phillies.

For years our guys in red pinstripes were atrocious. The Braves dominated the NL East through most of the 90’s and into the 2000’s. But around the mid 2000’s, the Phils started showing signs of life. Jimmy Rollins became a mainstay at shortstop, and it seemed as if a new stud was making his way up to the majors every year.  Cole Hamels emerged in 2006, and in his first game against the Cincinnati Reds, he allowed just one hit over five innings. That same year Ryan Howard came up  for his official rookie season and bashed 22 dingers in a mere 88 games. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year that season and followed it up with an MVP award in the subsequent year. Chase Utley developed into an All-Star caliber second baseman.

Jimmy Rollins
Jimmy Rollins 2007 prediction came true: the Phillies went on to win their 1st of 5 straight NL East titles.

But one specific moment changed the identity of the Phillies forever. A simple comment Jimmy Rollins made on a park bench during spring training in 2007. “We are the team to beat in the NL East.” This comment came out of nowhere. Nobody expected this team to overtake the Mets, who had won 97 games the year before and looked poised to claim another division title. And for a while during that 07 season, it seemed like Jimmy had made a foolish declaration. But late in the season, the Phils sat 7.5 games back of the Mets just 17 games to play, and the historic comeback ensued. The Phillies caught the Mets, won the NL East and Jimmy Rollins picked up the NL MVP award. The chapter ended abruptly as the Phils got swept in the playoffs that year, but the story, and championship window was just beginning.

As a fan, we all hope for our teams to compete for championships year in and year out. But with the ever-changing landscape of sports these days, it’s virtually impossible. Few teams can sustain the type of run that the current New England Patriots or San Antonio Spurs have. But for a 5 or 6-year span, my Phillies had the chance to win a title every year.

Pat_Gillick_holds_up_2008_WS_trophy_CROP
The Phillies were one of the best teams of the 2000’s, winning 5 straight NL East titles, and capturing the 2008 World Series Crown over the Tampa Bay Rays.

The 2008 team will be forever enshrined in Philadelphia Sports folklore, winning the only Championship the city has seen since the Sixers won the NBA title in 1983. As with most championship teams, this team had its share of iconic moments; the grand slam Shane Victorino hit off the previously untouchable C.C. Sabathia in the NLDS; the legendary Matt Stairs “Ripping one into the night” in game 4 of the NLCS; Cole Hamels’ lights out play during the entire 2008 postseason. It feels like just yesterday I was sitting in the upper level with my dad and brother during game three of the World Series, when old man Moyer took the mound that night and pitched 6 and 1/3 innings- pretty great for a guy in his 40’s. Then there was the final out after the brutal rain delay in game 5 of the World Series. Brad Lidge finished off his perfect season as a closer (48 saves in 48 opportunities) with the final out. I was in the family room in my house watching with my old man, as the legendary Harry Kalas made the call, and believe me, we never have cheered quite as hard as when Eric Hinske whiffed on Lidge’s slider to end it. Moments like that make being a fan worth the years of agony.

The Phillies would go on to have success over the next few years. Cliff Lee’s ’09 run was magical; watching him tell the Yankees to screw off when they offered him an extra 40 million dollars was even better. Roy Halladay’s perfect game against the Marlins and his playoff No-No against Cincinnati were truly remarkable. The 2011 season of the 4 Aces (Hamels, Halladay, Lee and Oswalt) was a blast to watch and they lived up to the hype, at least for the regular season. Watching 100 win seasons and the sellout streak at Citizens Bank Park (the best park in baseball, yes I’m calling you out Aaron) seems like it was just yesterday.

Roy Halladay
Roy Halladay’s impressive tenure in Philadelphia included a perfect game and just the MLB’s 2nd ever playoff no hitter. But just like the current Phillies team, age and injury led to an abrupt end of his winning ways, and career.

But the ramifications of over-investing in the core of that team has left the franchise in a bad situation, one that is unbearable for diehard fans. Jayson Werth leaving was the start. It made sense at the time, as we were able to resign Cliff Lee largely in part to letting him walk. But he was a big part of that ‘08 team. Then Victorino was shipped to Boston. Roy Halladay just ran out of gas. It was downright depressing, and Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard appear to be heading down similar paths. Seeing Jimmy Rollins in Dodger blue this year will be more than weird. It’s like getting rid of your first car, the one that you went on great road trips in, the one that you went on your first date in, the one that always seemed to have your back. But now you have to watch that car being driven by someone else until the tires finally just come off, when in fact, it should have been you behind the wheel at that moment. Seeing Cole Hamels inevitably get traded will be equally depressing. At least Chase Utley still at times resembles that Championship caliber player and will hopefully retire a Philly.

So remember, all you fans currently in the midst of one of these great streaks, it will come to an end. Some will come quick, others painfully slow. The fall will seem great. The toll it takes on you as a fan will depend on how emotionally invested you have been over the course of your teams run. The only thing I regret is that the Phillies only have one title to show for all their greatness. But the Eagles got to at least the NFC Championship 4 years in a row and have nothing to show for it. This Bills lost four straight Super Bowls. The Rangers lost two straight World Series. Many cities and franchises don’t have any titles to brag about. So I’ll take my title and run.

As I sit here writing this article, I can’t help but wait for the next great run. But until that happens, I’ll just have to endure the sadness of winning.

By Peter Gumas

Images: Phillies Post-Game Hand Shake, Jimmy Rollins, Phillies Parade , and Roy Halladay

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